Is anybody out there?

Biology day: Morven Davies and Bronagh Goodlad search for the presence of starch and DNA in samples.

A GROUP of nine pupils from Shetland have just returned home after an intense week of studying at the first ever astrobiology summer school held at the University of Edinburgh.

The local pupils were part of a group of 15 teenagers who had the chance to work with scientists and learn about some of the key scientific challenges of today.


Students were taught various aspects of astrobiology – which focuses on the origins and the limits of life. These included how planets form and how life adapts to extreme environments, such as in the deep sea or in Antarctica.

Pupils also gained insight into whether life exists on other planets, as well as the likelihood of human bases being established on other planets and moons.

Professor Charles Cockell, head of the UK Centre for Astrobiology, said: “We hope this summer school gave students a taste of how exciting science can be, especially in the context of real and important challenges, and perhaps will encourage some to consider a career in science or technology.”

Astronomy day - Persephone Poulton, Aidan Redpath, Kirsty Uttley and Jack Simpson build a vehicle for their planet and program it to orbit its star (light bulb).

The students found the slightly less formal approach from the lecturers engaging.

Paul Bendix, of the Shetland Science Outreach Group, said: “In the course of a very demanding, high-pressure week, they gave students opportunities for personal development, including team-working, critical thinking and collaboration.

“Activities included lectures, lab sessions and field work and finally preparing reports and presentations.”

The nine from Shetland were Aidan Redpath, Jack Simpson, Drew Garrick, Persephone Poulter, Rachel Sansom, Yasmin Lawrence, Morven Davies, Bronagh Goodlad and Kirsty Uttley.

The pilot was supported by the Royal Astronomical Society, the UK Space Agency, NorthLink Ferries, The Rotary Club of Shetland and Zetland Educational Trust.